Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle. As I only have 10 minutes, I will definitely run out of time, just as I do nearly every time I rise in the House.
I am grateful for the chance to speak about such an important subject. I have the opportunity to comment on the motion moved by my colleague from the Northwest Territories, whom I have come to know fairly well over the past four years. I have had the opportunity to see him at work, for example, in committees. He really defends the rights of northerners with exceptional vigour and passion.
I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work done by not just my colleague from the Northwest Territories, but all the representatives from the north, from Churchill Falls to Whitehorse. They are responsible for areas that are bigger than the average European country. They often have to defend very complex and specific files that concern such issues as the economy, the need for access to services and the environment.
Today's topic, nutrition problems in Canada's north, is a good example of a specific problem that my colleagues from the north must address.
People who, like me, live in the south need to understand that basic necessities, including perishable goods, are often shipped to the north by plane. Stores necessarily have higher hydro, maintenance and food storage costs. Naturally, this affects the cost of the food on the shelves.
For example, in April 2014, the price of two litres of milk was around $8 in several communities in the Yukon, while people in the Edmonton area were paying about $3.30 or $3.35 for two litres of milk. That is over 200% more.
One story that really struck me is one Quebeckers may not be aware of. In May 2012, Leesee Papatsie of Iqaluit, Nunavut, created a Facebook page called “Feeding my Family”. With the example I just gave about milk costing 200% more, we can see how difficult it is to feed a family.
Now, this page has more than 25,000 members and, unfortunately, the food situation in the north continues to be very difficult.
This citizen-driven initiative showed us images that struck Canadians and my colleagues. We saw older first nations members rooting through the garbage for food to eat. They were not there to eat properly, but to survive.
The nutrition north Canada program has a fixed annual budget of $60 million, $53.9 million of which is supposed to be earmarked annually for subsidies, in order to lower the price of food in the north. Unfortunately, despite all these millions of dollars, the program is not working.
My colleague's motion is well thought out and illustrates his knowledge of the subject. I will read the motion and comment on it, as it points to major aspects of the problem.
The motion reads as follows:
That the House call on the government to take immediate action to fix Nutrition North Canada and to improve the well-being of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians in Northern Canada by: (a) immediately including in the Nutrition North Canada program the 50 isolated Northern communities accessible only by air that are not currently eligible for the full subsidy;
On the Government of Canada's website, we read:
To be eligible for Nutrition North Canada (NNC), a community must:
lack year-round surface transportation (for example, no permanent road, rail or marine access).
I do not get it. When I read this official definition and I hear that communities that can be reached only by plane are getting partial subsidies, there seems to be a disconnect. I do not understand how it came to this.
In fall 2014, the Auditor General, whose findings I will keep referring to, said that the department did not base its eligibility criteria on the needs of the communities.
The criteria for the nutrition north program were not based on the needs of northern communities. This creates scenarios where the most remote communities that need more support to make food more affordable receive less in the way of subsidies than other communities.
Here is another excerpt from the motion:
...to improve the well-being of Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal Canadians in Northern Canada by...initiating a comprehensive review of the Nutrition North program, with Northerners as full partners, to determine ways of directly providing the subsidy to Northern residents and to improve supports for traditional foods.
It is important to understand that the subsidies do not go directly to families who need better access to healthier food, but rather to retailers and distributers. At the same time, in the fall of 2014, the Auditor General noted that the department had not verified whether those northern retailers had passed the full subsidy on to consumers.
That is a very troubling conclusion. We are talking about millions of dollars in very small communities, and yet the Auditor General had to conclude that no one had verified whether the subsidy served to lower prices for the people who needed it.
I would just like to go off on a tangent about what we saw this week from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. When we see how badly the Conservative government messes up initiatives and so-called solutions targeting northern communities and sometimes primarily first nations, we have to wonder why a government would be so negligent.
This week, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs stayed seated while all of the representatives of Canadian communities gave some of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's findings standing ovations.
There is something awry with this government's mentality and its approach to the problems that northerners and first nations have. It is astounding. It needs to change as soon as possible, but that will probably only happen if there is a change in government.
Here is another part of the motion:
...improve the well-being of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians in Northern Canada by...creating equitable program-eligibility criteria for Northern communities based on their real circumstances;
Once again, judging from the Auditor General's findings, the minister did not collect the information needed to manage the nutrition north Canada program or measure its success. We are talking about $60 million shared among small communities to meet an essential need: improving access to healthy food. However, the Auditor General found that the government did not have measures in place to assess the program outcomes.
We need to go back to the communities and, in the future, make sure that we are taking their real circumstances into account throughout the process.
Here is another part:
...improve the well-being of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians in Northern Canada by...providing sufficient funding to meet the needs of all Northern communities;
Once again, this is in line with the Auditor General's conclusions about how the department had not implemented the program's cost containment strategy.
Since I do not live in the north, but on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, I will share one or two quotes from people who live in the north. An MLA from the Yukon, Mr. Elias, said:
The change from a transportation subsidy to a retail subsidy, combined with the decision to no longer cover surcharges and taxes, has dramatically increased the cost of getting food into Old Crow.
Someone who lives in the area, like hundreds of others who testified, told us quite clearly that the multi-million dollar measures the Conservative government put in place in the past few years have not helped reduce prices significantly, which would have helped thousands of people feed themselves better. This result is absolutely pathetic.